The hospitalisation of several persons in Tobago who drank marijuana-infused ponche de crème brings into focus the need for setting and policing food and beverage standards.
The decriminalisation of marijuana has no doubt created a burgeoning market for ganja-based products, ranging from cookies to oils and drinks.
While initial reports singled out the ganja content of the drink that sent people to the hospital, any conclusion on the cause of the problem must await a report from the Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Health.
The Consumer Affairs Division of the Ministry of Trade should feel compelled to be in the best position to inform the public of the test results, with appropriate guidelines going forward.
Putting aside what he had termed as “other priorities” in the line ahead of any such consideration, the Prime Minister accepted a report by a group of activists, and then announced he was in discussions with the Attorney General. A swift review of the country’s cannabis legislation was conducted, and in December 2018, bills were passed in the Parliament which had the effect of “freeing up the herb” as advocates had called for.
Persons could no longer be prosecuted for simple possession of marijuana, up to 30 grammes, and it became lawful for anyone to grow up to four marijuana plants on their property.
But in the absence of proper guidelines and unregulated use, there will continue to be risky applications that can only combine to create fear, as well as medical emergencies.
An article in the Harvard Health blog dated January 2018, lists a wide range of medical conditions for which users might benefit with the judicious use of marijuana. For example, its cannabinoid oil is said to be versatile, for both internal and external use.
With more than 100 active ingredients, the plant is said to possess properties for reducing insomnia and anxiety, as well as for treating such life-threatening conditions as epilepsy, and the effects of multiple sclerosis. Users are reported to be able to resume previous activities without feeling completely out of it, or disengaged.
Follow-up work on the use of the substance ought to have been seen as a direct consequence of the Government’s decision to liberalise. This is given the long period of gestation in which there were arguments for and against.
The Food and Drug Division should have been in on this from day one. We therefore cannot wait much longer to do the necessary work on the proper uses of the substances.
In addition, it appears that the liberalised environment speaks only to the personal uses to which marijuana can be used. Confirming the widely held notion that this was a half-way measure, is the absence to date of any move to set up a licensing regime. This is the case in other countries in Caricom, where people can get into the business of selling small quantities of marijuana, and the state can benefit from a tax regime that will contribute to needed revenue collection efforts.
This, therefore, is an opportunity for a reset on the marijuana relaxation initiative.